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Treatment Options for Cancer of the Salivary Glands

How is Cancer of the Salivary Glands Treated?

Surgery for cancer of the salivary glands Surgery is one of the treatment options for salivary glands cancer.

There are treatments for all patients with cancer of the salivary gland. Three kinds of treatment are used:


Surgery is often used to remove cancers of the salivary gland. Depending on where the cancer is and how far it has spread, a doctor may need to cut out tissue around the cancer. If cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the neck, the lymph nodes may be removed (lymph node dissection).

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is also a common treatment of cancer of the salivary gland. Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external radiation therapy) or from putting materials that produce radiation (radioisotopes) through thin plastic tubes in the area where the cancer cells are found (internal radiation therapy).

Specialized types of radiation have been shown to be effective in treating some salivary glands tumors. Fast-neutron beam radiation is a type of radiation therapy that uses tiny particles called neutrons. Photon-beam radiation therapy reaches deep tumors with high-energy light. Along with radiation therapy, the use of drugs to make cancer cells more sensitive to radiation (radiosensitization) is being tested in clinical trials.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be taken by pill, or it may be put into the body by a needle in a vein or muscle. Chemotherapy is called a systemic treatment because the drug enters the bloodstream, travels through the body, and can kill cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy for cancer of the salivary glands is still being tested in clinical trials.

Post-Treatment Options

Because the salivary glands help digest food and are close to the jaw, a patient may need special help adjusting to the side effects of the cancer and its treatment. A doctor will consult with several kinds of doctors who can help determine the best treatment. Trained medical staff can also help in recovery from treatment. Plastic surgery may be needed if a large amount of tissue or bone around the salivary glands is taken out.

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